The Wayfarer of Sune

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Chapter 13

Fusestu, Central District, Teikoku

(23rd of Eleint, 1491 Dalereckoning)


With Zolin, Golem, Gatsuyu, and Nagomi beside her, Kaileena made for Kazeatari, then Fusestu. Their procession was not unnoticed, for word of her challenge had been heard as far as the capital itself.

Those eyes, how they followed her! All her life...they followed her, making her feel unwanted. Unwelcome.

But she didn’t balk at their spiteful, accusatory stares. Not anymore. This was her home. Her family had been grievously wounded, at Minamoto’s hands. At Teikoku’s hands. What fate and her rulers had denied her, Kaileena would seize in the name of what was right.

Goddess willing, she might not feel so terrified of it...

There were many waiting for them when that appointed hour came. The courtyard of Fusestu, before Minamoto’s three-story villa, itself surrounded by a small village, was packed with onlookers. Atop the stairs leading to the villa, descended several heavily armed and armored soldiers, which formed a defensive wedge formation about four individuals.

That number couldn’t be incidental.

Kaileena approached as the crowd parted to accommodate her, onto a small field about a bowshot long and wide, separating the villa from Fusestu itself. There were knee-high stalks of grass, billowing in the slight breeze. It was evening, and the sun was low in the horizon, bathing the sky with red.

The four men, the Four Lords of Teikoku, stopped at the base of the stairs. All but one wore a white haori, a symbol of their office. Furthest to the right was a short, thin man with ornamented, lightweight armor, unusual white hair, which was cut short, and a glazed look in his eyes as he studied a small orb dangling from his gauntlet, which emitted a faint light. To his left was his seeming opposite; a pudgy, brown-garbed man lacking any armor at all, his fingers covered in thick, heavy rings of various jewels. He studied her intently, his small, beady black eyes like those of a bird of prey.

Farthest to the right was a black-clad warrior, tall and entirely covered in armor. Not a bit of flesh was visible, and the robes inside were thick, concealing his frame. He could have been muscled like an ogre, or thin like his opposite lord, and Kaileena couldn’t have known one way or another.

Minamoto stood to the left and center, dressed for battle. In place of his haori, he wore pauldrons over his shoulders, and he held a decorated and horned kabuto in his hand, black as his breastplate, its face a mask of steel depicting a fanged oni. It would deflect most slashing attacks due to its curving plates; an intentional quirk of design in a land where a slashing weapon was the most commonplace in the form of a Katana.

For a moment, she wished her mother had favored a rapier as her weapon of choice. Nothing for it now...

The crowd grew silent. With a final look to her family, Kaileena stepped forward, setting aside her pack and cloak. At her waist, she carried Tsukuyumi, her mother’s wakizashi, beside her holy symbol. Tied against her lower back, that it dangled above the base of her tail, was Guardian’s golden lamp, made inert when he perished in the battle against Malakas. It offered her calm assurance, this symbol of a life that had ended, that her life may continue.

She would not waste his sacrifice.

"A lord has been challenged to trial by combat." one of the soldiers said, an officer, judging by the ornamentation of his armor, ”Be there any who would fight as proxy?"

A formality; whoever actually chose a proxy forfeited their station.

"I would fight, Kaileena." Zolin pleaded once again, helplessly.

But both Kaileena and Minamoto remained silent, and each approached the other, stopping at five paces. How inadequate, her “battle garb” seemed, measured against his armor. She righted her tunic, and the shirt of mail underneath, and awaited Minamoto’s rebuke.

"Don’t make me do this, Kaileena."

Kaileena closed her eyes, steeling herself.

"It cannot be avoided. I would not rebel against the calling in my heart."

She opened her eyes, appraised him. Considered him. Weighed the part he’d played in her life. In this light, she didn’t hate him. She couldn’t. He wasn’t evil like Malakas. Like her, Minamoto did what he thought was right, even if his heart had fallen second to his mind.

It had not been callousness that had sentenced her father to death, but compromise. She very much didn’t want to fight him. But she couldn’t back away, either.

"Did you ever wonder why the other nations know nothing of this place?"

She blinked, confused.

Minamoto studied her, intently, then, ”The gods themselves carved this island from their mountaintop, plunging it into the ocean. But they did not make the first who inhabited it, for it was no more than rock at that time. I have read from a small set of stone tablets locked away in the Hitorigami’s vault. These tablets detail the tale of Izanagi and Izanami."

"The first male and female." Kaileena replied, remembering much of the fable.

"Izanagi and Izanami were given the naginata named Ame-no-nuboko. The two deities then went to the bridge between heaven and earth, and churned the sea below with it. Drops of salty water saturated the island, then only Onogoro, and gave it life, remaking it as Teikoku. The deities descended from the bridge of heaven and made their home on the island. Eventually, they fell in love and wished to mate. But the gods are not like us, and their first offspring were...incorrect. They were sent away, to the far reaches of the island, and they birthed those who would populate the land. The second pair, however, were correct, and their line bore the true heirs of the two gods who would rule it. For many generations this was so...until those birthed were no longer gods, but mere men. The first of these was Jimmu-tennō, the first who would be called Hitorigami."

Minamoto grew somehow more solemn, ”Gods could keep Teikoku safe from other lands, but mere men...simply could not. First, Jimmu thought to war with the other lands, but in his dotage, he sought another way. When he made all of Teikoku his empire, he made a pact with the still-living gods, that they would ever stir Ame-no-nuboko in the sea from above. Teikoku would never see its gods again, and men alone would rule it."

"The gods agreed, and they floated to the skies, and the seas around Teikoku swirled and clouded with fog. No ship could pass it, and eventually all memory of Teikoku faded from the kingdoms it warred with. And so, the first Hitorigami hid Teikoku from the world. The only reason you were able to return is because you knew it was here. An outsider would have found only dense mists and sea storms. Only one who is born of this land can reach it."

He held out his hands in entreaty, ”I tell you this so you can understand. The gods sacrificed themselves to protect this land, severing their ties with it forever. Sacrifice, for the greater good. There are laws here, seemingly cruel but made for a higher purpose. I wanted so badly to spare you from it, but I could not. A great sacrifice for the land. For Teikoku. The law cannot be-"

"The gods didn’t sacrifice themselves for the land." Kaileena interrupted, ”For it is but rock and grass. They sacrificed themselves for the people of Teikoku. That was their edict. What do you laws say against this?"

"I have done as I must, to protect this land and its people." Minamoto conceded, ”Even if it entails actions that I do not enjoy. Our enemies are many, and at times we must appease one, to resist others. A few suffer, that the whole of this land and its people do not."

"A few suffer, and then another few." Kaileena replied, ”And then another few. And then another few. In trying to protect the people, you fail to protect the people. If that is order, than it is inadequate."

"You have no place to-"

"You killed my father! You have taken me from my home!" she hissed, ”My family! You sacrificed me to this because it was easier to deal with evil men than to stand up to them. What is one insignificant Non-Human outsider, after all, against the needs of the land?!"

"Never once did I consider you an outsider."

"BUT EVERYONE ELSE DID!" Kaileena snapped, beyond controlling the boiling anger saturating her body, leaving her shaking and breathless and smoldering with purple fire, ”You don’t appease evil, Minamoto. You stand together and face it. I would have been able to, with you beside me. With my father beside me. But now all I have left is regret, at everything you have taken from me."

She straightened, ”And that is why I challenge you. That is why I know, in my heart, that I will defeat you. Because I’ve regained my family. With Gatsuyu, and Zolin, and Nagomi. And I won’t let you destroy it again."

With their words given, they backed away. Kaileena drew power into herself, and collected it, pooling it at her fingertips.

The crowd shifted nervously, as a cutting sphere manifested from a swirl of the currents of air, building in momentum and compressing again and again until it formed a tiny black orb of concentrated energy.

And then another formed, and a concussive sphere for good measure, just a little larger.

That done, she prayed to the Lady Firehair for aid. Instantly, the weariness of the road and her grueling training left her, shed in an instant. A calmness of mind and body came upon her, and the air about her churned with a tangible, rosy glow smelling of roses. She could feel the vibrations of the air, and a certain solidity in her legs, as if they had become a part of the soil they touched. She instinctively knew her reflexes had been heightened, and she would tire far slower than normal.

The Moon’s light reveals...” Kaileena whispered, and her sword assumed its crescent shape, its length snapping audibly as it bent forward, and then back, its tip widening and splitting to birth a barb. The lord with the white hair and the glazed eyes turned from his magical trinket to appraise her weapon with a fawning expression.

How much lighter it felt in her hands now, thanks to her training. How right it felt...

Kaileena impressed herself not to let that bother her just now.

With a dancer’s grace, she circled her much larger, heavier opponent, who drew his katana, a mighty blade of single-edged steel, its sheen textured with rippling patterns, betraying the number of times its ore had been folded over itself in the forge. Onto his head, he placed the horned kabuto, and all she could see of his face were his eyes.

Assuming a traditional kendo stance; blade forward and tilted diagonally and up, knees and elbows bent, Minamoto lunged forward, but struck with a light blow, the momentum of which she traveled with, parrying only slightly as she danced out of the way.

He wasn’t attacking, merely probing.

She sent a cutting sphere towards him, which he sidestepped, never fully turning his back to it, advancing while batting it aside from the back, swinging his blade back down to parry the other, while she kept her concussive sphere close as a ward from retaliation.

They traded blows directly, their blades ringing, his steel and her crystal, with resounding notes not unlike music.

Kaileena was not privy to the passage of time, only the movement of her body, the angling of her blade, punctuated by an orb whizzing past her to strike against Minamoto’s powerfully enchanted sword. She didn’t fully meet his charge, didn’t fully parry his attacks. Always she kept moving, never letting him build enough momentum.

Just like Zolin had taught her.

Her body, not idle these years in Cormyr, kept the pace easily, and she barely felt winded.

And then Minamoto, having taken her measure, pressed the attack.

Now their swordplay become more aggressive; Minamoto put weight behind his swings, measured for each attack, and she couldn’t parry at all, for risk of him putting his full weight to bear and staggering her. Her spheres whizzing by in dizzying and irregular patterns, she batted his blade aside when it came too close, and tried to use her agility to slip around his defenses, every time met with failure as he outmaneuvered her and came in with another devastating swing.

Kaileena pulled back on her crescent sword, its barb catching the tip of Minamoto’s katana, but he lurched forward with the momentum, as if to impale her. Twisting her body to the side, Kaileena took her sword in a two-handed grip and swung at the back of his leg, which he kicked forward, clipping her shin and ruining her balance. Kaileena darted forward, her tail propelling her onto four legs, before she twisted her body, regaining her footing in time to gather her spheres together and flummox his next attack, forcing him to backpedal or be overwhelmed.

Panting, Kaileena took the offensive, terrified that he might gain that kind of leverage again...


Zolin stood very still, gripping his sword with whitened knuckles, as his love fought for her life. And unlike Malakas, this wasn’t an enemy he could try to save her from.

Chapbooks liked to regale of epic battles between skilled opponents, atop war-torn battlements and lofty halls, lasting for hours, neither gaining supremacy until one last great flurry of motion proclaimed one or the other the victor. In reality, most individual combat lasted only a few seconds, speed and dexterity determining the bout with one or two clean hits.

And yet...here he was, witnessing one of those epic, legendary battles. The combatants had dueled for over a quarter hour, neither giving ground.

Kaileena swung, recovered, retreated, and attacked anew, utilizing every technique he’d given her. Her spheres were never far from her body; attack and defense simultaneous. Her crescent sword rang with every strike, filling the air with a strange, otherworldly music. He could feel the magic coursing through that sword, but it was beyond his understanding. Like Guardian. Like...a great many things...

Their duel brought them from one end of the field to the other, in circular motions almost like a dance. Kaileena, with her superior agility, forced Minamoto, a far more grounded duelist, to constantly twist and turn, grinding his momentum to a halt. She had chosen her time well; with the sun nearly set and more tolerant of the cold than other Lizardfolk, she wouldn’t become winded by the heat of the daytime hours.

He sucked in air, as a particular exchange left Kaileena open, her spheres too distant from defeating a complex, multi-layered attack pattern, and only her sword to protect her. As Minamoto pressed the attack, she deftly backpedaled, spinning her sword in an elegant flourish, swatting his blade aside at the tip.

With the immediate threat removed, she followed up with a two-handed slash, for her reach didn’t allow a thrust of her own. Minamoto, still grounded, simply angled his blade, parrying near the guard, pushing her back.

She grunted, pained, as the guard struck her on the chin, but by then her spheres had returned and she spun them horizontally with blinding speed, one above the other, while the larger one hovered close. Minamoto, unable to counter two threats at varying elevations, retreated.

“To hells with honor, Kaileena.” he seethed, on the verge of drawing steel and charging into the fray, “You win this or I swear by the Sun God I’ll tear you away from this place myself.”


Kaileena did her best to ignore the throbbing that blow had left in its wake, and thrust her cutting spheres forward, each coiling about the other and separating gradually. Minamoto bodily hurled his sword through the opening, and Kaileena gasped, sidestepping the clumsy attack. She felt a moment of confusion as the blade passed her; the orbs drew closer, and he had no possible defense.

A slight shift in the air was her only warning.

Kaileena ducked, and yelped, as Minamoto, materializing where his blade had flung, sliced the tips of her feather mane, and kicked out with his knee, which struck her belly as she turned to face him and sent her into a backward roll.

Recovering, despite the air being pushed from her lungs, Kaileena managed to interpose her concussive sphere, which ruptured, blasting Minamoto from a distance of two paces. Propelled backward, he staggered, but didn’t topple.

Gasping for air, Kaileena found her feet, the sword a little heavier and less steady in her hands.

"They say each of the Four Lords has a powerful enchantment placed on their sword." Kaileena noted, forming another concussive sphere, breathless, ”That is yours, then?"

Minamoto nodded, ”That, and more."

He seemed to vanish, but the grass separating them bent forward, towards her, and Kaileena hissed, fearful, interposing her spheres and rupturing the concussive one, and Minamoto, his enchantment of blinding speed depleted as he seemingly teleported to the side, out of the blast radius, swung in a horizontal stoke.

Parrying the thick of her blade against the tip of his, Kaileena pressed the attack, knowing many such enchantments needed time to recharge, if only a few moments, hooking her sword’s barb onto his guard and pulling him closer towards her. In her other hand, she pushed forward her cutting sphere, while the other circled around and attacked his flank.

Minamoto pushed his blade into the soil, hurling its hilt forward, and teleported to it, behind her. Kaileena leaped forward, and felt her back alight with pain as he sliced into it from behind. Her eyes watered, and everything she saw seemed to have a blurry duplicate slightly to the left.

Hissing in pain, she landed on fours, and turned to face him, slapping the blade again, and as he threw its hilt to the side, she twisted with it, parrying again as he disappeared and reappeared with his hand again on the hilt. Her spheres, guided by her willpower, struck from either side, and different elevations, and he backpedaled, out of the way.

No good; her spheres neared each other onto the point of collision, and thrust straight toward him, which he blocked with his gauntlets. Not as heavily enchanted, the spheres sheared into them, grinding metal and forcing him back.

With a great cry, Minamoto pushed his arms to the side, knocking the spheres away, and his body seemed to blink out of existence.

The grass didn’t disturb in the slightest, but Kaileena heard him throw his sword, and she instinctively ducked to the side, as he materialized and struck, and then again, as he disappeared, the grass bending as he ran a semicircle around her in the space of an instant, threw his sword again, materialized behind her, and struck against her parry as she anticipated him, more by scent and instinct than sight. Her arms felt like lead, but she had stopped his momentum.

Maneuvering around him, Kaileena considered her strategy. She must have been wearing him out, to so force a change in tactics. But she couldn’t dance around him now, with his movements so swift and erratic. She’d have to get in close...but how could she manage his devastating strength? He outweighed her nearly two-to-one!

Her level of focus in just following his movements not allowing another sphere, Kaileena got enough distance to dare a hasty conjuration.

Minamoto paused, considering her. There were no warlocks or sorcerers in Teikoku, who drew from magic directly or by an extraplanar being as proxy. Teikoku’s enchantments needed no time to cast, only to create, purely relying on a style like wizardly ritual magic. Her mystic passes and chanting must have seemed alien to him.

Finishing her spell, Kaileena tore at the fabric of the world, admitting a pair of incorporeal spirits, which sank into the ground, seeking stone beneath the softer, malleable soil.

As the ground shook, Minamoto charged her again, and Kaileena interposed both spheres, thrusting Tsukuyumi forward and up, menacing Minamoto’s throat with its barb. Though he was protected by a neck guard, he instinctively backed away.

Her summoned spirits bonded with the native stone, and burst free. Like bony serpents, they slithered toward Minamoto, and against the combined attacks of her spheres and spirits, he was forced to retreat further. Unable also to dare throwing his sword, his teleportation was nullified, and she was ready for when he might try to overwhelm her with blinding speed.

Daring a clerical spell, Kaileena pointed her fingertip, and discharged a bolt of shimmering green energy. When it struck him, his body immolated in harmless magical fire meant to mark him more clearly.

When he activated his sword’s enchantment, the fire around his body traveled with him, betrayed by a slight glow that her eyes just managed to follow.

She knew he would appear beside her, and her orbs were in place to defend her.

But as he struck one, it burst apart, and she batted his blade aside with the other as she slashed low with her own weapon. Her sword cut a deep line against his thigh, between the armor plating.

Minamoto, stunned, backed away, hounded by her spirits.

Kaileena took a step forward, then hissed, as her back burned fiercely, followed by a deep, penetrating ache. She dared reaching her hand back, and felt a wide cut in the material, and the mail beneath it, and the skin beneath that. Her hand came back bloodied. She gasped for air, wiped away yellow foam that had begun to coat her lips.

Minamoto took another hit, as a spirit clamped its stony jaws onto his underarm. Minamoto tossed the blade rather than threw it, and teleported aside, and as the spirit’s teeth broke off in his flesh, he decapitated it with a single stroke. As he battled the other, it disintegrated into mundane stone.

Rather than cast another offensive spell, Kaileena prayed for healing magic, and was answered, as the wound in her back, unable to be restored directly, was coated in a substance that would seal it and allow it to heal on its own, though it still pained her fiercely. Her chin no longer ached, and a measure of strength flowed into her weary limbs. Still, her body was hunched forward, holding her sword in both hands, for fear she would drop it with only one.

Minamoto dispatched the other spirit, and eyed her, incredulously.

"Healing?" he asked, bewildered.

With only her sword and a single sphere remaining, Kaileena assumed a stance, ”I am gifted in both the divine and arcane. A Theurge, they call us, in Faerûn."

He was given pause at that. Fortuitous, for Kaileena couldn’t seem to breathe properly. She tasted salt, and spat, panting heavily. What came out was a dark yellow, foamy, streaked with red. All that seemed to keep her up was her sword, its tip planted against the ground. Her prayers were now exhausted, and she had one last burst of energy left in her.

Despite her bluster, she could last only a few moments more before the fight ended, and Zolin would be exiled or would perish. Minamoto would win, and her father’s death would go un-avenged.

Hissing, Kaileena drew her orb close, and considered exactly what to do with it, with her last scraps of energy. Minamoto saw her distress, and waited patiently for her next move.

This was the moment. She had to find some way, any way, to deal a grievous blow and end the duel, no matter the risk to herself. Zolin was depending on her. Her family was depending on her.

She couldn’t fail!

Kaileena hissed, her body failing. She had moments, no more.

And then, an idea impressed upon her.

She remembered the scroll in her father’s study; the one that allowed a caster to wrap a spell or enchantment about an object.

Daring one last, desperate look to her mate, who had drawn steel and was blocked from reaching her by a trio of soldiers. The sheer helplessness etched upon his face nearly undid her, but she offered him a weary smile.

Lifting her mother’s sword, Kaileena, wide-eyed, began to incant, the words spilling from her lips. Gradually, she felt less that she was speaking them, than they were pulling themselves from her of their own accord.

Black spots swam in her vision. For a moment, she saw nothing, heard only her labored chanting, her gasps for air. Then, it passed, and she was left blinking at her own reflection in the blade’s shimmering crystal. The cutting sphere warped behind it, indenting and then flattening, its depth compressing as it elongated, becoming ovoid, and then a long strand of swirling magic and pressure.

Thought it should have burst from the strain, it twisted, flattening further, and Kaileena passed her sword through it. Like dough, it curled about the sword’s edge and sealed around it, adhering and assuming its shape.

Now her edge was not a shimmering crystal, but a blackness that seemed to eat light. It took all of her concentration to hold it to the blade, and keep the sphere from impacting.

This was it, then; with the sphere bonded to her blade, and lacking the magic to craft a new one, Kaileena had no defense left, and only the stamina for a final charge.

Minamoto sensed this, but looked little better.

"However this ends..." he muttered, catching his breath, ”Know that you are a worthy opponent. You are your father’s daughter."

Nodding, Kaileena took a step forward, blade up, ”Ready?"

"Ready."

As one, they lunged forward, the distance closing.

Beat.

...Kaileena keenly felt the...

Beat.

...of her heart, and in her heart she felt the...

Beat.

...of Zolin’s, of Gatsuyu’s. The...

Beat.

...of her Father’s heart. Both of them. The...

Beat

...of her Mother’s heart. The...

Beat.

...of the music of Lady Firehair, and the...

Beat.

...of the strange music within her mother’s sword. The...

Beat.

...of the music longing for release...


Kaileena roared as she met Minamoto’s charge, and her black-edged sword surged with silvery moonlight. Zolin screamed, crying her name, pressing against the men that had moved to block his path. He watched in horrified awe, as great luminous wings trailed behind her like a cloak, then spread wide as she brought her sword to bear. As her sword, the space inside the crescent filled, became like a great, weighted cleaver, and with a deafening retort and a blast of air that bent the grass beneath them outward, knocked the less grounded from their feet, smote across Minamoto’s sword without resistance, just as he dealt her a mortal blow to her abdomen, across her right side.

She cried out, stumbled forward. Her wings winked out of existence, just as her sword again became merely solid ore, and reverted back into a wakizashi.

“Kaileena!”

He slugged a soldier under the chin, forcing him back. The other two drew black powder weapons not unlike the works of Gondish priests, and how keenly he felt their regard in the darkness within those hollow tubes that served as barrels!

Helpless, Zolin watched as his love stumbled forward, clutching her side.

Everything was quiet. How could it be so quiet?

Minamoto, un-wounded, turned back toward her, an expression of sheer horror etched across his face. In his hand, he held his sword, cloven halfway down its length. It vanished from his hand in a burst of magic.

Kaileena in turn faced him, hand to her side, from which blood flowed.

She hissed, pained, but the look upon her face was defiance as her hand left her side, and revealed a deep gash from which Zolin could see the protrusion of bone; the tip of her pelvis, maybe.

In that free hand, covered in blood, Minamoto’s sword appeared, its edge repaired, marked only by a thin line of discoloration.

The crowd stared, dumbfounded.

Minamoto, tormented, fell to his knees.

“Kaileena!”

They moved aside to admit him, and Zolin rushed towards her.

“Hold still.” he gasped, pressing his hands against her side, “J-Just...gods, hold still...”

Unable to cast magic directly upon her, he poured the contents of a healing potion directly onto the wound, and he felt it begin to close, flesh and muscle reuniting. He cast as well, just to restore her magic, hoping for something, anything, to help keep her alive. Her body went limp, and he began to lower her to the ground.

“No.” Kaileena said, just above a whisper, her eyes deeply lidded, “Help me up. Sheathe Tsukuyumi."

“You need to-”

“Zolin...please.”

Tears in his eyes, Zolin complied, sliding her mother’s sword into its lacquered, ornamented scabbard. Holding her up, as she gasped for air she couldn’t seem to find, he led her towards Minamoto, who knelt impassively.

Her heartbeat...gods, she was about to faint.

“A moment more...” she breathed, “Just a moment more.”

When they stood before the Lord of the Central District, he looked up. Kaileena stood on her own, and Zolin placed the horn talisman, that allowed him to perceive other languages, up to his ear. The sun set as they stood there. He could see the stars, and Selûne herself.

"Your will was the stronger." he said gravely, defeated, ”Your blade has broken mine, and it has chosen you as its new wielder. I am defeated."

“What does he mean by that?” he asked, eyeing the sword warily as Kaileena hefted it, “Swords in your land sometimes bear names. This is Sasu, and it is not only a sword. Weapons of power in Teikoku often have identities of their own, and certain...prerequisites. When its current wielder is defeated, it will choose a new one.”

She eyed its edge, “It is the symbol of authority of the Central District of Teikoku. It has chosen me. I am a noble, a just challenger, and I broke its blade in honorable combat. And it has chosen me.”

There was no satisfaction in her expression, only numbness, “By law of Teikoku, I am the Lord of the Central District.”

Minamoto, not understanding but perhaps sensing their words, nodded, ”And now you can exact justice. For yourself, and your kin. Finish me."

Zolin blanched.

"Finish me, now."

Kaileena somehow turned a shade paler, from realization or blood loss, he couldn’t say.

"I cannot."

Now Minamoto eyed her directly, ”You would so dishonor me as to spare my life...? Have I truly earned such hatred?"

Kaileena shook. The crowd shifted uneasily.

"Please."

Minamoto’s sword was in her hands.

“Kaileena...”

She lifted the sword. The blood drained from her face. He dropped the horn talisman, his fingers limp.

“Kaileena, don’t...”

“This is our way Zolin.” Kaileena said despondently, “It has always been.”

“Kaileena.”

She took in a breath of air, poised to strike. Minamoto closed his eyes, leaning forward, hands on his knees.

“Kaileena!”

She shrieked, and swung that terrible blade.

Into the soil before Minamoto’s knees.

He flinched, looked up, and the desperation in his eyes bespoke to true depths of what she’d just done.

Angry voices shouted out, indignant voices.

She knelt opposite to Minamoto, dropping the sword, and put her hands in his. She spoke a few brief words, which he could no longer understand. Minamoto, in turn, nodded, his eyes downcast. Then her hands reached up to him, and lifted his head to face hers, and she kissed him on the forehead. He didn’t need to understand her words, for they were etched upon her face.

"I forgive you."

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